Last founding member of Tecton dies aged 90
Francis 'Freddie' Skinner was the last surviving of the seven original members of Tecton, the pioneering practice formed under Berthold Lubetkin in 1932 that dominated the formative period of the Modern Movement in Britain. Skinner was Lubetkin's closest colleague, who shared and supported his charismatic partner's belief in modern architecture as an instrument of social progress.
Born in Kuala Lumpur, the eldest of three brothers and two sisters, Francis Skinner was 'sent home' to England at an early age to be brought up by a maternal aunt in Reading. Entering the Architectural Association in 1927, he soon became disenchanted with the traditionalist teaching and focused on the radical developments in Europe, many of which he had visited by 1930. A contemporary recalls him reducing an aa studio master to tears in a school crit with his scheme for a Florentine Renaissance church composed entirely of exposed rsjs. His first building, a prize-winning reinforced- concrete house for the Modern Homes Exhibition at Gidea Park, was completed in 1934 when he was only 26.
Skinner was deeply engaged in the political struggles of the 1930s, being a committed member of the Communist Party and the secretary and driving force of the Architects & Technicians Organisation, which campaigned for better housing conditions and building practices. He was also active in the aasta and abt which promoted unionisation of building workers and salaried staff.
This activity was all pursued alongside his work in Tecton, where, as for Lubetkin, his political and professional aspirations converged most closely in the work for Finsbury Council, beginning with the Health Centre completed in 1938 and now listed Grade I. The same year Skinner visited Spain to study the effects of aerial bombardment in the Civil War, his findings contributing to Tecton's controversial scheme of deep bombproof shelters for Finsbury during the Second World War when he served with the Royal Engineers and volunteered for bomb disposal work, having found routine duties too dull.
Tecton's work resumed after the war with the housing projects at Spa and Priory Green, Paddington and Holford Square, Skinner seeing through the Finsbury schemes during Lubetkin's tenure at Peterlee. Skinner declined an invitation from Le Corbusier to join him at Chandigarh in 1950 and continued with major housing developments in Bethnal Green, Hackney and Southwark in the reformed firm of Skinner, Bailey and Lubetkin.
Skinner retired to Suffolk, where he continued with various personal projects, including teaching himself Russian and making an extensive study of historic houses and castles. Typically, he approached these not from a sentimental or tourist perspective but as manifestations of Britain's social structure and political development.
Behind Francis Skinner's innate reticence lay unshakeable egalitarian ideals and a profound belief in the essential humanism of art and science. The very embodiment of George Orwell's phrase 'the crystal spirit', he was steadfast, gentle and true.